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Human Knowledge and Experience

Immanuel Kant proposed that things themselves—the noumena—cannot be known and the only things that we can perceive through our senses are the appearances of things or the so-called “phenomena” (Adams, 1997). Following Kant’s argument, one can say that after we process and assimilate information, we can only get as far as deriving knowledge about the appearances of things instead of truly gaining knowledge of the things themselves. Thus, progression to real knowledge of these things can hardly begin since we do not get to the point of accessing the things themselves or what Kant calls as the “ding an sich”.

The empiricist John Locke asserts that we have no innate ideas and knowledge upon birth and that we accumulate knowledge through our experiences either through reflection or sensation (Michael & Michael, 1990). If that is the case, we rely on both our minds and senses to grasp information that are basically external to us. In the process of using our senses, there is the possibility of failing to have an accurate understanding of what we experience since our senses can fail us. Thus, one is led to believe that we cannot guarantee ourselves of pure and genuine knowledge.

Our quest for knowledge becomes more troubling not only because we cannot access the noumenal realm but also because the information that we get can also be corrupted, distorted or incomplete. I think there is hardly any progression to genuine knowledge. I think the best that we can have are socially construed knowledge that operate within and through human language. John Searle (1995) in his book The Construction of Social Reality argues that we create our own social reality through our language and our understanding of the things that we experience.

The things that we call as “knowledge” are not necessarily genuine knowledge of real events and real things in themselves. On the other hand, the things that we call as knowledge are the knowledge that we ourselves have created from experience through language.

References

Adams, R. M. (1997). Things in Themselves. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 57(4), 801-825. Michael, F. S. , & Michael, E. (1990). The Theory of Ideas in Gassendi and Locke The Theory of Ideas in Gassendi and Locke. Journal of the History of Ideas, 51(3), 379-399. Searle, J. (1995). The Construction of Social Reality. New York: Free Press.

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